I am old and secure enough now to admit publicly that in high school I was on the debate team.
To understand a little about the makeup of our debate team, I offer this comparison: If our debate team was the “A-Team” (and it wasn’t), I would have been “Faceman” (Dirk Benedict in the TV version; Bradley Cooper in the “film”).
When I’m the pretty boy, it’s a sad-looking bunch, for sure.
But what we lacked as a debate team in the looks department, we more than made up for in the incredibly bad debating department. I offer as evidence the fact that one of my debate team colleagues began every rebuttal by saying “Where’s the beef?”
After that intro, he recovered by delivering other inane ’80s pop culture references (“Whatchu Talkin’ About Willis?,” “That’s reediculous!,” “Freeze! It’s Miami Vice,” and “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”) — often in character, rarely pertaining to the topic at hand.
Admittedly, we were poor excuses for debaters, but at least we knew some of the rules. The same can not be said of what qualifies as popular debate today.
What passes for debate today is not debate. For instance, in a formal debate, you can’t interrupt one another. You actually have to wait your turn, then you can present your argument in the same allotted time as your opponent.
That’s not the way the talking heads on television or radio debate a topic. There, you apparently “win” an argument based on two factors:
1. By talking the most (and thus, interrupting the most).
2. By getting angrier than the other guy.
It doesn’t really matter what you say, or if you address the topic at hand. All you have to do is talk more, talk louder, and deliver your diatribe more vehemently. Pity the poor soul who wishes to engage in a thoughtful, thorough dialogue. Sean Hannity, et al, will bury them with shouting.
The other way to win a “debate” is to say everything. Eventually, you’ll be right. Sports commentators are particularly adept at this practice. I heard one analyst earlier in the season say the Philadelphia Eagles would win the Super Bowl. This same sports analyst — three weeks later — said the Eagles wouldn’t make the playoffs. Sunday morning, prior to the conference finals, he predicted the Green Bay Packers would win the Super Bowl (they lost). I’m sure he’ll now make another wrong prediction. Then, if he gets that one right, he’ll brag about how right he was in his prognostication.
Is hollering and screaming and making loud, wholesale declarations more entertaining than a courtly, intellectual exchange of ideas and contentions? Of course it is. We aren’t robots, or British.
But is it a wise avenue for making judgments? No, it’s not. We don’t learn a thing when the criteria for debate is which side can shout down the other. We need to take time to listen to what is said, not how furiously it is delivered.
To quote how my old debate team colleague ended every argument: “I rest my case.”
No wonder we finished fourth in the region debate competition – our of four teams.